Empty Bookshelves

Religions and Spiritual PathsBy Valentine Laout

My parents were born and raised Catholic. My father wanted to be a missionary, so instead of going to high school, he went straight into the seminary. It was not what he expected. He became disillusioned, and, after a few years, he dropped out. With no formal education and no money to return to school, he was forced to go to work. Because of this, he resented the Church and turned his back on God. He now calls himself a “culture-Catholic”, meaning that, while he dislikes organized religion, he recognizes that Catholicism has had an enormous impact, good and bad, on the architecture, art and thinking of Western civilization. My mother used to go to mass every week. She is no longer a regular church goer, but she has remained open minded and maintains a personal connection with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

I was baptized Catholic and made my First Holy Communion. But when my mother joined an ecumenical church, Catholicism became less and less important to me. To this day, I still have a sacred feeling when I enter a Catholic church that makes me want break into a Gregorian chant. My husband has an uncle who was a monk in a Dutch monastery and an aunt who is a nun in a convent in the south of France. So, you can see that I continue to be surrounded by the Catholic aura. I am thankful for the good things of the Church, but I cannot accept Church dogma and rules, especially how it distorted Jesus’ message of love. Instead of becoming an atheist like my father, I chose Jesus. And I have never left his side.

Along with my interest in Jesus, I also studied other religions and spiritual paths growing up, such as Tibetan Dzogchen meditation (an early form of Buddhism), trance healing, mediumship, yoga, Jungian psychology, Gnosticism, and Reiki. I bought a copy of the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) version of A Course in Miracles (the Course) when it was published in Dutch in 1999, but I found the concepts and language difficult to grasp. So, I put the big blue book on my bookshelf while continuing to seek the “right” spiritual path for me. What was I searching for? In retrospect, I think I was trying to find out what I was doing here on this planet, and, more importantly, my function. I was convinced that there must be a bigger plan – God’s Plan – but I couldn’t figure out my part in it.

In 2017, my husband was diagnosed with kidney cancer. It was a shock, and I went through many emotions over the first few weeks as we waited for test results. The uncertainty was like a rollercoaster. One day as I was biking behind my then ten-year old daughter (whom I hadn’t yet talked to about the cancer), I was struck by the realization: “Oh, my God, I might lose my husband and you, your father.” It was like a knife in my heart. My daughter did not notice, and I did not tell my husband. Back home alone in my room, I was panicking. Then I saw the blue book, sitting big and radiant on the shelf. I grabbed it and opened it at random. What caught my eye turned out to be just what I needed at that that exact moment:

It is this Child in you your Father knows as His Own Son. It is this Child Who knows His Father. He desires to go home so deeply, so unceasingly, His Voice cries unto you to let Him rest a while. He does not ask for more than just a few instants of respite; just an interval in which He can return to breathe again the holy air that fills His Father’s house. You are His home as well. He will return. But give Him just a little time to be Himself, within the peace that is His home, resting in silence and in peace and love.

This Child needs your protection. He is far from home. He is so little that He seems so easily shut out, His tiny voice so readily obscured, His calls for help almost unheard amid the grating sounds and harsh and rasping noises of the world. Yet does He know that in you still abides His sure protection. You will fail Him not. He will go home, and you along with Him. (Workbook Lesson 182: I will be still a moment and go home.)

I knew what I read was the truth and I just had to trust. Calmness came over me. I read the rest of the lesson and it gave me confidence that all was well. And although the following days were scary, deep down I knew I did not have to be afraid. I did not tell any of this to my husband, but I could see he too had picked up on the feeling that everything would turn out okay. We had the strength to carry on.

I also knew that this was a sign that I had to study the Course again. And from that day on, I did so with all my heart. First, I went in deep with the Dutch FIP version and I loved it. But studying it carefully and reading books about the Course alongside it, I sensed that something was missing. After a couple of years of studying alone, I started searching for a study group. All the Dutch ones were full or did not feel right for me. But then I found the Circle of Atonement (the Circle). They offered free live daily lessons in the first pandemic months. What a brilliant way of teaching, so transparent, so practical, so warm, such dedication! It did not take me long before I joined the Course Companions online community and bought the Complete and Annotated Edition (CE) version of the Course.

It has now been two years since I joined. I could not manage without the CE. It is called “Complete” because it replaced all the words edited out of the FIP version… and it’s in English! Turns out that the translation of the Dutch FIP version was too far removed from the source material for me. I just love reading and studying this Course in English. I do all my practices in English; I even pray to God in English! It all feels so natural.

Since that first cancer diagnosis, my family has been through a lot. My husband went into remission and then the cancer returned. I got very ill with long Covid. As you can imagine, we all had a lot to deal with emotionally. But we are getting back on our feet and moving towards the light. I could not have done this without the CE, the Circle and Course Companions. I feel so much at home in this community that it’s my spiritual family. In the meantime, I have dived even deeper into the Course and completed training to become a leader of study groups and a teacher for the “More Than an Intro” program, as well as taking almost every workshop the Circle has offered over the last two years. We are so blessed to have Robert Perry, Mary Anne Buchowksi, Emily Bennington and all other dear Circle staff members guiding us on this path of light.

My bookshelves are a lot emptier these days: bye-bye books about Buddhism, yoga, auras, mediumship, and everything about Carl Jung. Now I only need one book: A Course in Miracles. Its wisdom is endless, and every day I find something new and exciting in it. Often in Course circles we hear that it is the Course that comes to us, not we who come to the Course. That certainly has been true for me. I trust that God knows what is best for me, and Jesus and his teachings in the Course are there to help me on the path. I have a happy home here on earth until I return to where I never left: home in Heaven with God.

If you enjoyed this story you might enjoy this one!
Or you may be interested in delving deeper into A Course in Miracles.